The Author

Memory

I’ve always thought of memory as something of a mixed bag, some things pulled out of it unpleasant, some things joyful. I’ve also thought of it as somewhat uncontrollable, popping up at the most inopportune time.

These conclusions have been based upon the idea that memory has to do with the past, with “what happened,” a reasonable conclusion since a memory is built upon an event, something already experienced. Reasonable, but inadequate. Memory is more about the future than the past because memory is what helps us as we face future events.

Consider those “bad” memories, the ones everyone says that they would just as soon forget. When they appear, it’s as though we have been transported back in time to the place and the pain. But, if we take a deep breath, we realize that is not what is happening at all. We’ve not gotten into a time machine and returned to last week or last year. What if, instead of a threat, those memories were a warning, a reminder of what we don’t want to do, be, or experience? What if those memories shaped our behavior for the good? As odd as it may sound, those memories are not threats, they’re blessings. They have the power to change how we live today and tomorrow.

What is true of those moments is even truer of “good” memories, those whose visit we enjoy. They carry within them the promise of even more happiness. One of my favorite preachers, Fred Craddock, is fond of saying, “We look forward in memory.” Memory shapes our expectations. We would be different people if we lived in the confidence that past joy is simply prelude to a wonderful future.

Jesus said as much when he told his disciples “to remember.” In I Corinthians 11, the Apostle Paul quotes Jesus as telling his disciples to observe the Supper in memory of him. “For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you do remember the Lord’s death until he comes.” Did you notice? The death is not a pleasant memory, but it is a good one. It shapes us, but not only us; it also shapes the future. That’s what memory can do. And that’s a blessing.

Mirror

I fixed my wife’s lighted make-up mirror the other day. The mirror, which had been an important part of her Christmas list a few years ago, had been without a light for quite some time.

While I don’t remember the date, I do remember the day clearly. Ellen off-handedly mentioned that the light was no longer working, and I responded with the boast of an acknowledged know-it-all, “I bet I can fix that.” I’ve never met an appliance that I wasn’t willing to take apart.

I first assumed that the bulb was out, and that the fix was simply to open the cover and replace it. I looked high and low, turning the mirror upside down, over, and under, looking for a little latch, or even a slot for a screwdriver or a dime. Nothing. No latch. No slot. In my infinite wisdom, I concluded that there was no bulb.

Then, I decided that it was the dial. This particular mirror works on something of a dimmer switch system in which twisting the dial causes the light to increase or decrease in brightness. Turning it left and right, I could get nothing out of it. “There’s the problem,” I announced. “It’s the switch. Probably needs a new one.” Ellen, who had been watching this display of technological prowess, said, “I’ll just use it without the light.”

And so it has been for well over a year. Then the other day, I fixed it. It happened in this way. I was walking from the bedroom into the bathroom when I tripped over a pair of shoes that I had left laying in the floor. On the way down, I reached out to grab hold of something to steady myself. As I did, I knocked her mirror into the lavatory. After I had righted myself, I picked up the mirror only to realize, “Hey, the light’s on!” I turned it upside down, over, and under. I twisted the dial, left and right. It all worked. When I saw Ellen that night, my first words to her were, “Honey, I fixed your mirror.”

She could have responded in so many ways. She could have said, “Thank you!,” or, “I am so glad!,” or, “That’s nice.” But instead, she said, “How did you do it?” So, I had to admit to her that I hadn’t really fixed it, that my laziness in leaving my shoes on the floor had caused an avalanche of circumstances that almost resulted not in fixing but in breaking something that was a gift. I had to confess that my part was the mess; someone else did the fixing.

No reprimand, no eye-rolling. She just laughed and graciously said, “I’m glad it’s fixed.” Funny how life works, isn’t it? So often, we are supremely confident that we can meet every challenge, pry loose every lid, twist every dial, fix it. When we can’t, we live with the brokenness, making do with less, stepping over the mess we make. Then, one day, reaching out as we’re headed for another fall, we discover that we are rescued, redeemed, fixed. In that moment, if we listen closely, we can hear laughter, the laughter of one who loves us, the laughter of grace.

Genius

Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid. Albert Einstein, a widely-recognized genius, said these words, and they have refused to let me go.

I suppose that he could have simply been expressing some humility, wanting to deflect some of the adulation that was coming his way because of his achievements and insight. He could have been trying to encourage someone who was struggling in his attempts to succeed in some endeavor. Whatever he was trying to say,
I heard him saying that we are each uniquely gifted to accomplish the tasks that God has given us.

Some might argue that this strains the definition of genius. The prevailing sense is that it is someone who seems to do all things well, that the answers to problems come quickly, that she see things that the rest of us common folk don’t. I once had a professor who was a genius. I know because he told me that he was, and who am I to argue? I also know that I wouldn’t call him to fix my plumbing or a broken light. That doesn’t mean he wasn’t a genius. It simply means that he really didn’t do all things well.

As I have thought about all this, I have begun to look at others differently. Rather than become frustrated by what they can’t do, I have begun to ask, “What are they geniuses at? What has God equipped them to do?” I’ve even begun to be a little easier on myself. Rather than dwelling on perceived imperfections, I have begun to ask, “So, what is it that God has equipped me to do?”

Someone might say, “But isn’t this what the Bible says about spiritual gifts and each one being uniquely equipped to bless God’s church? Didn’t you know this already?” Yes, I’ve read the text. I know what it says. But I also know that we spend more time talking about what someone can’t do than what they can do. In other words, we’ve criticized fish for not being able to climb a tree.

All this reminds me of something that we all would do well to remember. Speaking for himself and us as well, the psalmist (Psalm 139:14) says that we “are fearfully and wonderfully made.” To paraphrase, we’re all geniuses. In other words, we may not be able to climb a tree, but boy, you ought to see us swim.

Time

The annual time change a recent Sunday morning reminded me of the folly of our ways. Somehow, it seems that we think we are in control of something when we move those hands or change those numbers on our timepieces. Someone at some point convinced us that by the mere moving of the clock, we have actually added more light to our day. As I said to some folks recently, I can't even get the three clocks in the kitchen to match. If I can't make the microwave, coffeemaker, and oven straighten up and fly right, how dare I think that I can add a second, much less an hour, to my day?

Besides all that, time is so flexible that to try to measure it by the clock is almost impossible. If my week has been extra busy and I haven't been able to spend as much time as I would like on a sermon, Sunday morning at 10:45 always seems to get here a little faster. Ask someone how long the day of a funeral felt. I suspect some will tell you that it was the longest day of their lives. Think about those folks who are trapped in the disaster in Japan. The unexpected rupture of an earthquake happened suddenly, but the days since have dragged. I don't know how to say “it seems like an eternity,” in Japanese, but I bet they do.

Consider how arrogant such an act of time manipulation is. I have always been a little amused by the folks who go through all kinds of gymnastics to prove that the creation week of Genesis was a literal seven days of twenty-four hours each. Now, before anyone begins to question my orthodoxy, it is my firm conviction that God can do whatever God wants to do whenever and however God wants to do it. But, it is a little problematic for our calendars that, according to Genesis 1, the sun and moon were not created until the fourth day. In other words, the Book tells us that there is a time that is beyond our control and our understanding.

But, we already know that. We have already experienced it in those moments of time crawling and time flying by. It is out of our hands, and whether we are willing to admit or not, that is wonderful news. It means that we are not the Creator, but the created. It means that we are not in control, but another is. It means that the events of time are watched over by one who is “the same yesterday, today, and forever.” It means that the one for whom a thousand years is as a day and a day as a thousand years is also the one who has said that neither the present nor the future (nor earthquakes or nuclear disasters) can separate us from his love in Christ Jesus. Think about it - what's an hour we can't control compared to an eternity controlled by someone who loves us? I'll trade an extra hour of sunlight any day of the week for a God like that.

Blessings, Sam

Recent events have caused me to think about the nature of change. I have been caught up in the news accounts of the dramatic events in North Africa and the Middle East. When multiple thousands of individuals show up seemingly out of nowhere to demand change, something new has been turned loose in the world. We who live on the other side of the globe may assume that the turmoil in Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, Bahrain, Iraq, Iran I could go on – have little to do with us, but we assume incorrectly. In this world, someone sneezes in China, and we catch a cold.

These thoughts about change have also come to me on a personal level. In our church family, we have recently experienced the death of several dear members. While we rejoice in the hope of the resurrection, and are confident in their presence with the Lord, we cannot deny that change has come, particularly for those families, but in some way for all of us. To be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord, but it also means that life is not the same.

What is true for individuals and families is also true for churches. I don’t know if you have noticed it, but church life has changed dramatically. While most of the conversation (or arguments) revolve around worship style, that is only a part of it. Mega-churches that serve as their own denominations, house churches, cowboy churches, biker churches, cell groups, small groups, denominational lines blurring or non-existent, a veritable cafeteria of choices.

The reaction to all this change is fairly predictable. The governments in some countries have reacted with violence to the threat of change, determined to preserve their power. I could tell you about some churches that have done the same. Others have stuck their heads in the sand, pretending that, while the world around them has changed, their little world has not, and thus, there is no need for a response. Still others have met the change with a passive resistance, what the British formerly called a “stiff upper lip,” that is determined to endure until the change changes.

As a Christian, it seems to me that none of those responses is adequate. If we believe that God continues to work in the world (I’m afraid that some of us act like he doesn’t), then God may be the author of some of the change. Even if God isn’t the author, surely he is powerful enough to use that change for his own purposes. If that is true, then the reaction of his children ought not be violence, fear, dismay, or even sticking our heads in the sand. I am reminded of Gamaliel’s response to the anger of those who opposed the first Christian preachers, “If it is from God, you will not be able to stop these men; you will only find yourselves fighting against God,” (Acts 5:39). Something has been turned loose in the world. Our reaction ought to be one of trust and faithfulness.

Blessings, Sam